How Can an Employer Incentivize Social Responsibility?

How Can an Employer Incentivize Social Responsibility?

At an all-company meeting last week, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg announced that the company was retooling its employee bonus system to reflect a new set of priorities, focused on addressing the controversies surrounding the social media giant concerning the proliferation of hate speech and misinformation on its platform. In addition to traditional metrics like user growth and product quality, Facebook will reward employees this year based on their success at promoting the social good including combating fake accounts, protecting users’ safety, and making progress on other social issues affected by Facebook and the internet in general.

The decision to reward employees for doing social good reflects a challenge that many companies, particularly large corporations with major public profiles, are facing today. Investors, politicians, the media, and consumers are paying more attention than ever before to the social, environmental, and ethical consequences of what businesses do. And Facebook is not alone in this desire, for example, Chevron recently announced that it would tie executive compensation to reductions in the energy corporation’s greenhouse gas emissions. This dynamic, in turn, puts more pressure on corporate leaders to deliver sustainability and social responsibility as well as growth.

For Facebook, awarding bonuses to employees for meeting social responsibility goals will inevitably test the company’s ability to live up to two truisms: “actions speak louder than words,” and “what gets measured gets done.” To the first point, companies can articulate all the values they want, but at the end of the quarter or fiscal year, what matters is whether the organization actually lived up to those values in its day-to-day business practices. We’ve seen companies attempt to project an image of social responsibility, only to get called out for not really reflecting that image in their work. The impact of Facebook’s new policy will take time to fully materialize, but when it pays out bonuses for 2019, investors and reporters will be curious to see whether they have really rewarded the kind of choices they say they intend to, and whether those rewards reflect a real change.

As to the second point, Facebook has set itself an ambitious goal of identifying quantifiable metrics by which to determine progress against its goals of social good. Facebook has acknowledged that there is no easy or obvious formula for doing this, but they are looking at targets like number of fake accounts shut down daily or improvements to safety and security as possible metrics. Being a data-driven company, Facebook will likely get more granular and detailed about how it defines success, especially with both the media and governments paying closer and closer attention.

Here are four things that any company considering a similar change should be ready to do to make it more likely that an incentive program like this will be successful:

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Pay Transparency Matters Most As a Means Toward Employee Confidence

Pay Transparency Matters Most As a Means Toward Employee Confidence

There are very few talent-related issues that generate as much attention as compensation—in particular, how compensation compares among all the various employees at an organization. Historically, companies have preferred not to share information about compensation out of fear that those who are on the bottom half of the compensation chart will become disappointed and disengaged when they learn that they are earning less than their colleagues. This fear has been a major factor in the business community’s objection to the CEO-employee pay ratio reporting rule that came into force in the US this year: When you publish the salary of the median employee, half your employees inevitably discover that their pay is “below average.”

This idea of hiding compensation for fear of disengaging employees is a relic of the past, however. The reality today is that employees can get a sense of how their compensation stacks up compared to their peers through a growing number of websites that share this information publicly, such as Glassdoor, PayScale, or Salary.com. In other words, employees can already find out how their compensation compares to others and are already talking about it; the question for senior leaders is whether they want to participate in or shape these discussions.

As technology has forced greater transparency in compensation, some companies have decided to actively manage the conversation by proactively revealing to their employees what their co-workers, managers, and senior leaders earn. The New York-based tech company Fog Creek Software is one such organization; eight months ago, it gave its three dozen employees a chance to see what their peers were making. On Bloomberg’s “The Pay Check” podcast this week, Rebecca Greenfield checks in with Fog Creek to see how it went:

Fog Creek’s chief executive officer, Anil Dash, believed … that salary transparency would shine a light on unfair pay practices and ensure things stayed that way. Dash, an entrepreneur, prominent tech blogger and prolific tweeter, is a rare, pro-union, tech CEO who also believes in the old-guard internet principle that information wants to be free. “Transparency is not a cure-all and it’s not the end goal, it’s a step on the way to the goal, which is to be fair in how we compensate everyone,” Dash said. …

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PwC’s Return Policy for New Parents Is a Natural Experiment in Shorter Workdays

PwC’s Return Policy for New Parents Is a Natural Experiment in Shorter Workdays

Last month, PwC rolled out a $45 million investment in its employee wellness program, including a suite of new benefits for working parents, Glassdoor’s Amy Elisa Jackson reported at the time:

  • $1000 bonus to all staff to spend on wellness-related activities;
  • Four weeks of “Paid Family Care Leave” for all partners and staff to care for certain family member with serious health conditions;
  • Eight weeks of paid parental leave for staff of any gender with a new child (currently six);
  • New “Phased Return to Work” transition, with the option of new parents working 60% of hours, at full-time pay, for an additional four weeks following a block of paid parental leave;
  • $25K reimbursement, per child, for adoption (currently $5K);
  • $25K reimbursement, per child, for surrogacy (traditional and gestational) expenses;
  • Pro bono membership to sittercity.com (childcare, housekeeping, pet care services);
  • Six hours of free Eldercare consultation (home assessments, implementation of care, etc.)

These expanded benefits, which according to Amanda Eisenberg at Employee Benefit News will go into effect on July 1, mirror what many other large US employers are doing to make their family benefits more generous and more inclusive. The point of interest here is PwC’s Phased Return to Work program, which the professional services firm says is the first of its kind. Offering this benefit up-front and actively marketing it to employees avoids the trap wherein new parents are afraid to ask for the flexibility they need out of fear of being seen as uncommitted. Closing that loophole was the motivation for Adobe’s returning employee flexibility program, which allows employees returning from at least three months of leave to work a non-traditional schedule for at least four months and requires all returnees to meet with their manager and HR to discuss this option.

Paying employees a full-time salary to work only part-time may sound absurd on its face, but we’ve seen a few other organizations experiment with shorter workdays in recent years. PwC’s policy will be worth watching, as it will provide another data point in how a limited workweek affects employee productivity, particularly among the highly stressed cohort of new parents.

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Corporate America Is Moving in the Wrong Direction on Sexual Harassment Transparency

Corporate America Is Moving in the Wrong Direction on Sexual Harassment Transparency

Since last year, the #MeToo movement has blown a hole in the shroud of secrecy that has long surrounded the scourge of sexual harassment at companies of all forms, sizes, and industries, both in the US and around the world. Yet just as the public consciousness of this issue is growing, more sexual harassment complaints are being handled behind closed doors than in the past. The US Equal Employment Opportunity Commission and equivalent state agencies received 41 percent fewer complaints in 2017 than they did in 1997, Bloomberg’s Jeff Green points out—not because fewer employees are getting harassed, but rather because companies have become much more likely to handle these matters internally:

Ninety-five percent of companies now have an in-house complaint process, the Society for Human Resource Management said in a January report. Eighty-two percent have an investigation protocol in place. …

At the company level, HR departments don’t always know the extent of their own problems. The same SHRM report found a wide disconnect between what HR sees and what employees are saying. Three out of four non-manager employees who experienced harassment said they did not report it. At the same time, 57 percent of human resource professionals said that unreported sexual harassment occurs “to a small extent.”

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After Pay Ratio Disclosures, Employees Will Have Questions About Their Pay

After Pay Ratio Disclosures, Employees Will Have Questions About Their Pay

A regulation mandated by the 2010 Dodd-Frank financial reform legislation and adopted by the Securities and Exchange Commission in 2015 requires public companies to publish the ratio between the compensation of the CEO and the median annual compensation of every other employee in their proxy statements, starting with the 2017 fiscal year. The regulation was left in place by the Trump administration, although the SEC has made it slightly easier for companies to comply.

Not surprisingly, as companies have started to share this information, much attention has been paid to how much CEOs earn. The net result of this information coming out is the rather unsurprising insight that most CEOs make a lot of money. Companies have rightly been more worried about reporting the median employee salary, which some business groups have said is difficult to calculate and to communicate.

The intent of the rule was that by publishing this information, companies would have an incentive to raise the average wage of their employees to lower their CEO-median employee ratio in comparison to their peers. After all, as the denominator grows bigger, the ratio gets smaller. While there is certainly some truth to this effect, a much more interesting effect is emerging as companies release information about the median wage of their employees. Some of these disclosures are eye-popping; Facebook, for instance, reported a median employee salary of over $240,000, according to the Wall Street Journal, but of course this doesn’t count all the subcontracted workers it uses for services like security, cleaning, and food service at its facilities.

One of the observations we have made about the reporting of the median employee pay data is that, by definition, half of employees are paid below average. While some employees realize that they are paid below average, and are accepting of it, for a significant number of employees this certainly comes as alarming news. But now that more companies are reporting this information, we get to see how median employee compensation compares across companies. Deb Lifshey, Managing Director at Pearl Meyer & Partners, LLC, discussed these comparisons in a recent post at the Harvard Law School Forum on Corporate Governance and Financial Regulation:

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Michigan’s Preemption of Salary History Bans Bucks the Trend, but Won’t Reverse It

Michigan’s Preemption of Salary History Bans Bucks the Trend, but Won’t Reverse It

Last week, Michigan Governor Rick Snyder signed into law a bill preempting local governments within the state from regulating the questions employers are allowed to ask candidates during job interviews. The broad anti-regulatory measure is aimed specifically at restricting local ordinances prohibiting inquiries about candidates’ salary histories, Jackson Lewis attorneys Stacey A. Bastone and K. Joy Chin observe at the firm’s Pay Equity Advisor blog, reinforcing a 2015 law that prohibited local administrations from banning these questions on job applications:

At the time of the bill’s signing, no municipality in the state had proposed an ordinance restricting pre-employment inquiries into salary history. Proponents of the bill contend that asking about an applicant’s past or current salary is a standard business practice and assists employers in budgeting. Opponents argue that soliciting salary history can perpetuate discriminatory pay gaps. …

Wisconsin’s legislature is also poised to pass similar legislation, they note, which Governor Scott Walker is expected to sign. Michigan and Wisconsin here are employing a legislative tactic that has become increasingly common in the past year among states with conservative governments to prevent their more liberal cities from implementing their own, more progressive employment regulations. At the same time, other, more liberal states are pursuing more employee-friendly labor regulations, including higher minimum wages, paid family leave and sick leave mandates, restrictions on the use of non-compete agreements, and even protections for employees who use marijuana in states where the drug has been legalized.

When it comes to salary histories, these midwestern states with Republican governors are going against the prevailing trend. Bans on these inquiries have been passed in California, Delaware, Massachusetts, Oregon, Puerto Rico, New York’s Albany County, New York City, and San Francisco, while 14 other states are considering them.

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If Corporations Are Holding Down Wages, Employees Won’t Work as Hard

If Corporations Are Holding Down Wages, Employees Won’t Work as Hard

Two new proposals from the Brookings Institution’s Hamilton Project envision potential reforms to corporate and public policies to protect workers from the negative effects of non-compete agreements and other labor market practices the authors describe as anti-competitive. The first, written by Boston University professor Matt Marx, offers several suggestions for ensuring that non-competes are not abused, such as ensuring candidates are aware of them before accepting a job and improving non-disclosure agreements to be a better substitute for overly-restrictive non-competes.

The other paper, co-authored by economist Alan Krueger and law professor Eric Posner, takes a broader view of the problem of employers using their market power to suppress wages. In an op-ed at the New York Times, the authors highlight the crux of their argument:

The culprit is “monopsony power.” This term is used by economists to refer to the ability of an employer to suppress wages below the efficient or perfectly competitive level of compensation. In the more familiar case of monopoly, a large seller — like a cable company — is able to demand high prices for poor service because consumers have no other choice. It turns out that many corporations possess bargaining power over their workers, not just over their consumers. Their workers accept low wages and substandard working conditions because few alternative job opportunities exist for them or because switching jobs is costly. In other words, in the labor market, effectively a small number of employers are competing for labor.

The authors point to non-competes, anti-poaching agreements, or other forms of collusion, as well as mergers with adverse effects on the labor market, as the means by which companies keep wages low. This might be true, or there might be other tools that companies are using to hold back wage growth (e.g. pressure from the CFO to drive margin, or lobbying states and municipalities to not increase minimum wages). This public policy debate, however, misses a bigger issue that this strategy causes for the companies themselves.

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